MEMORIAL — René Clausen
2003 Raymond W. Brock Memorial Commission
Performed by The Concordia Choir, Orchestra & Friends
Peter Halverson, baritone soloist
Rene Clausen’s “MEMORIAL” was inspired by the events of 9/11. The piece is written for baritone solo, mixed chorus, and full orchestra, and is approximately twenty-five minutes in length. The January 2003 issue of Choral Journal contains an article that discusses the work. Following is a quote from the composer about his commissioned piece:
It is probably more instructive to consider the choice of text and inspiration for the work together with a description of the music. Though presented as one continuous movement, the composition follows a program of sorts that has four sections.
The music of the first two sections, sub-titled “September Morning” and “The Attack,” develop imagery that is visceral, evocative, and highly programmatic in style. September Morning attempts to musically paint the picture of a beautiful, sunlit September morning in New York City. In this opening section the chorus is used as a section of the orchestra, intoning wordless vocalises in a Debussy-like tone poem. Premonition of the attack is then heard in the orchestra as the music moves into The Attack sequence.
As might be expected, the attack on the World Trade Center towers inspires music, which is highly dramatic, and employs non-traditional instrumental and vocal techniques that depict the catastrophic chain of events. The music is dissonant, rhythmically intense, and colorful, making use of extended percussion and the entire ranges of instrumental and choral forces. The only text used in the first two sections is the phrase ‘0 God, why have you forsaken me?’ The word for God is also presented in Hebrew – Adonai. The reason for this minimal use of text owes to actual nature of witness responses to the shocking, unfolding drama of the attack on the towers.
From my study of videotapes, news segments, and documentaries, the most common immediate responses of witnesses were exclamations of shock and horror-such as “0 God!” It was a moment in time when the vocalism of words in thoughtful sentences gave way to sensory overload and the abbreviated, clipped cries of disbelief “Where is God?” was a question that vexed every terrifying cry that day.
The second half of the piece, subtitled “Prayers” and “Petitions,” moves away from programmatic description of physical world events to musical evocation of spiritual response to these events. The “Prayers” section is set for baritone solo, chorus, and orchestra.
The text of the solo uses portions of a series of prayers written by Dr. Roy Hammerling of the Concordia College religion department. These prayers were written during the week of the attacks on 9/11/01, and are intercessory in nature. Under the baritone solo, the chorus intones a prayer-like aleatoric chant based on the structure of a Buddhist “Metta Meditation” -a three-part series of personal meditations.
The final section, “Petitions,” is an elegiac and introspective musical prayer for mercy, mutual understanding, and hope for the future. The primary text is one simple phrase, “0 God, shine your light on us, and we shall be saved.” However, this phrase is presented–first sequentially and then simultaneously–in English, Latin, Hebrew, and Arabic. In juxtaposing these languages, some of which are the languages of cultures at war with one another, it is the hope of the composer that in so doing we may find a common ground of higher being, and be called away from darkness into light. The piece ends with a quiet Kyrie-a plea for God’s mercy on this world.
Of course, it is a high honor. I have so little compositional credentials to bring to this important task. I am amazed, humbled, and thankful to ACDA for allowing me this opportunity. Although I would like to say many things, my most sincere hope is to honor the victims of the events of 9/11 with a work that is honest, hopeful, and cleansing.